Summary: Drug and Alcohol Consumption Associated with Risky Sexual Behaviors

Various studies have found that substance-using teens are a high-risk group for risky sexual practices and might be a target for programs and policies designed to reduce sexual risk-taking behaviors.

  • According to a recent article written in the Eastern Economic Journal, sexual risk-taking behaviors, or unsafe sex, is a prevalent problem among teenagers. By definition, sexual risk-taking behaviors include unprotected sex, unfamiliarity with the sexual partner, and multiple partners. Various studies have shown that among Americans, young women between the ages of 20 and 24 years old have the highest rate of unintended pregnancy, and teenage women between the ages of 15 and 19 years old have the second highest rate. Rates of Chlamydia and gonorrhea, the two most common reportable STI's, are also high among American teenagers and young adults. Two of the most commonly cited association of risky sexual behavior are alcohol and drug use. Numerous studies have shown a positive association between substance use and risky sexual practices. One particular study has shown that young adults who drink heavily or use marijuana are more likely to be sexually active and to have multiple partners. Additionally, those who are heavy drinkers are also less likely to even use condoms. The study published in the Easter Economic Journal used data from the 1991, 1993, 1995, 1997, and 1999 National School-Based Youth Risk Behaviors Surveys. The study found that 34% of males and 37% of females reported having sex within the past three months and that respondents who engage in sex and risky sexual practices have higher rates of drinking and drug use. For example, 50% of males who have had sex in the past three months also binge drink, while only 23% of sexually inactive males binge drink. The corresponding numbers for females are 34% and 17%. For sexually active respondents, the study demonstrated that compared to males who have had only one partner in the past three months, males who have had more than one partner binge drink more frequently, drink on more days, and use marijuana more frequently. Similar trends hold true for sexually active females.1

1I Did What Last Night?! Adolescent Risky sexual Behaviors and Substance Use, Eastern Economic Journal, Vol. 31, No. 3, Summer 2005, pp. 383-405.


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